Activists call time on Indian ship scrapping

India and Bangladesh cannot be seen as a convenient graveyard for the world's rusting hulks, and ship-breaking on their shores must end.

Toxic waste: ship hulks are not welcome in India, say NGOs

Toxic waste: ship hulks are not welcome in India, say NGOs

This is the new hard-line position of activists who have for years been trying to force breakers to clean up their act (see related story) now believe enough is enough and the entire industry should be scrapped.

Environmental and labour groups including Basel Action Network (BAN), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and Greenpeace have said no more ships should litter the shorelines of the Indian subcontinent, now or in the foreseeable future, due to the blatant disregard for the environment, human rights and international law.

BAN, named after the international moratorium on trafficking hazardous waste, estimates that there is an average of one death per day in the Indian ship-breaking industry, either from the cumulative effects of daily exposure to a cocktail of toxins or from the frequent explosions caused by torching fuel left in the hulks beached for scrapping.

Although India signed the original Basel Convention on hazardous waste, it refuses to acknowledge redundant ships as waste despite international agreement on the matter.

The shift in campaign groups' stance follows the latest ship breaking scandal, where the Danish ferry, Riky, was beached and cut on the infamous ship-breaking beaches of Alang in Gujurat.

The ship had been exported without the proper documentation and the Danish authorities had repeatedly asked the Indian government not to allow it to be beached, and turn it back.

But the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) dismissed the Danish requests and allowed the contaminated ship to land.

"In the absence of political will, we cannot force the shipping industry to clean up their act," said Ramapati Kumar of Greenpeace India.

"The SCMC's reversal of its earlier stance on Riky has exposed that no one, not even a Supreme Court appointed authority, is free from pressure from vested interests.

"We wanted to ensure that India received clean steel and that the ship-breaking workers could retain their jobs and their health.

"But enough is enough!

"If Indian authorities cannot stand by their commitment to international convention and national laws, and instead encourage toxic trade, it is inevitable that the industry will suffer the consequences."

The environmentalists have the full backing of the unions, who are also frustrated by the lack of regulation putting workers at risk.

"Government authorities have shown their complete inability to implement the most basic rules and regulations to safeguard labour interests the workers lose life and limb for the sake of a mere fifty rupees a day," said PK Ganguly of Centre of India Trade Unions.

"The workers would be better off seeking employment elsewhere, the government has failed them so completely that there is no point in allowing the industry to continue."

Greenpeace and BAN cite a catalogue of instances of international and national laws being abused.

  • Deliberate violations of the Basel Convention allowing illegal traffic as defined by that treaty, and considered as a criminal act (as in the Riky case)
  • Deliberate violation of Supreme Court orders directing the implementation of the Basel Convention.
  • Refusal to implement the Basel Convention Technical Guidelines for environmentally sound management of ship dismantling.
  • Lack of any substantial improvements at ship-breaking yards in last 5 years.
  • No plans to halt the use of beaching of ships for scrap.
  • Claiming that a ship is not a waste under international law in opposition to the position taken by all 164 other countries at the Basel Convention.
  • Falsifying Gas-Free Certificates and conducting other corrupt practices such as under-invoicing.
  • Refusal to obey Supreme Court orders directing the Indian Government to engage in negotiations at IMO and Basel Convention with a view to developing uniform international rules preventing the export of un-decontaminated ships-of-scrap to non-OECD countries.

    By Sam Bond

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